Accessibility links

African Migrants Overwhelm Italian Island's Refugee Center


A flood of illegal immigrants from Northern Africa is overwhelming Italian officials on the southern island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily. A boatload of more than 200 migrants arrived early Thursday and officials say the holding center has reached the bursting point. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

The holding center on the island of Lampedusa is now packed with about 900 migrants, yet its capacity is only 190. A boatload with more than 200 illegal immigrants on board arrived early Thursday and authorities immediately proceeded with identification.

On Wednesday, at least five people, including a child, died when two fishing boats carrying migrants sank between Italy and Libya. Italian coastguard officials say 36 people were rescued in the incident and taken to Lampedusa.

Because of the overcrowding at the facility authorities have begun airlifting some of the migrants to other centers on the mainland.

To add to the difficulties in the holding center, an epidemic of scabies broke out two weeks ago and 400 cases of infection have already been reported.

More rickety vessels and rubber dinghies are making the trip across from Libya and continue to be sighted by coastguard patrol boats. Officials say good weather conditions and calm seas appear to have increased the number of crossings by people seeking better economic opportunities in Europe.

Thousands of migrants try to reach Italy's coasts every year, brought in by smugglers who make lucrative runs on often fragile and overcrowded boats.

Morocco is one country that has been trying to find ways to stop immigrants from making the sometimes risky journey. Moroccan ambassador to Italy, Tajeddine Baddou, says unless Europe does more to favor development in Africa, these voyages of hope will continue.

"Europe has to help Africa to development, to create job opportunities in Africa," said Baddou. "Today everybody feels much better at home. Those who leave have no choice."

More than 50 African migrants were missing off the Canary Islands on Thursday when their crowded wooded boat capsized. The migrants were lost overboard in heavy seas as the Spanish coast guard tried to rescue them near the end of a dangerous trip from the coast of Mauritania.

In 2006 an estimated 30,000 immigrants were caught trying to reach the Canary Islands.

XS
SM
MD
LG